The Idaho wilderness where a group of horseback riders believe they encountered Amber Alert suspect James Lee DiMaggio and 16-year-old Hannah Anderson is “extremely rugged” and unforgiving, said one longtime wilderness guide.
Cheryl Bransford, 62, operates out of Ya-Hoo Corrals at Payette Lake, north of Cascade, near where authorities found DiMaggio's abandoned blue Nissan Versa.
A group of people on horseback told local authorities they spoke to two people believed to be DiMaggio and Anderson on Wednesday morning. After they notified authorities, the search intensified.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore confirmed at a news conference Friday morning that the vehicle found in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Valley County matched the vehicle identification number of the blue Nissan Versa belonging to DiMaggio.
The vehicle was found about 8 a.m. Friday and was covered in brush, Gore said. The license plates had been removed.
Bransford – who’s been leading groups of riders into the backcountry of Valley County in Idaho since 1978 -- described the terrain as very steep, with areas of “almost jungle-like” thick vegetation.
“It is extremely rugged,” she said.
The River of No Return Wilderness contains more than 2 million acres of federally-designated land, marked by rivers, deep canyons and rugged mountains.
Asked whether she thought the pair – led by DiMaggio, who officials describe as an avid outdoorsman -- could make it for any extended period in the backcountry, Bransford said it could be done “if you had the right skills.”
Especially if DiMaggio had a gun for killing game, the knowledge to track down fresh water and ability to start a fire, Bransford said. Overnight temperatures this time of year typically hover in the high-40s, she added.
Local, state and federal authorities – including the FBI, Idaho State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals and Valley and Ada county sheriff’s offices – are helping with the search, San Diego authorities said.
Mike Milne, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said agents were focusing on outbound vehicles from the U.S. at the two crossings on the Canadian border, which he said were 200 miles from where DiMaggio’s car was found.
But assuming the pair hadn’t found another mode of transport, they would probably stick to a trail, Bransford said. And with ample water, they could easily hike 10 to 15 miles a day, she added.
Along the way, DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson would also probably encounter vacation lodges or outfitting posts, where they would have access to food and other supplies, she said.
Bransford said she's concerned about safety, especially given the upcoming tourism and hunting seasons should the search drag on.
“It’d be easy to go into a camp at night and do whatever they want," she said. "People would be unsuspecting.”
Upon receiving the Amber Alert on Friday morning, Bransford said she and other outfitters started locking unused vehicles, which they usually don't do.
She also took another precaution.
“I keep a .357 within minutes away – loaded,” she said.
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